Inside busy schedules, Allens balance time for family

Some weeks, they’ll meet at a local restaurant. Others, Thomas Allen will walk into the head football coach’s office at Memorial Stadium and close the door behind him.

Wherever they are, Thursday nights are for father and son.

Before Tom Allen, IU’s second-year coach, dives into the final pieces of preparation for each Saturday’s game, designing his call sheets and bridging the divide between the practice week and game day, he sets aside time on Thursdays for his son, Thomas, a redshirt freshman linebacker.

One week, a trip to BJ’s Brewhouse might be in the plans. Sometimes, they’ll bring food back to Allen’s office. On one occasion this season, the two stopped at Wagon Wheel for a quick meal before venturing down the block to watch Brittney Allen and the Bloomington South girls’ volleyball team play a home match.

Whenever they meet, football talk is off the table.

Inside the hectic schedule of a Big Ten football coach, Allen’s role varies by the hour. He’s a teacher of the game in the morning and a film evaluator in the afternoon. He recruits nearly non-stop, oversees meetings with his staff in between and fulfills other obligations all the while.

Amid the bustle, he holds one duty closest of all.

“I just want to be his dad,” Tom Allen said. “I don’t have a lot of time to do that during the season, so we carve that time out. That’s a commitment I made to him.”

It’s not always easy inside the complicated workings of a Big Ten football program, but for the Allens, it’s a commitment that’s important to keep.

Initially, both father and son were unsure they wished to share this experience at Indiana. Tom Allen knows what it’s like to be the coach’s son. That was him at New Castle High School, where his father coached him a little harder and a little tougher than those around him.

Navigating the recruiting process, Thomas Allen had other Division I offers — he wasn’t reliant on the one from IU — and for a time, Indiana wasn’t a consideration.

“At first, I said absolutely not,” Thomas Allen said. “No way.”

But Thomas also remembered what it was like in high school, when his father could hardly attend his games on Friday nights. Often, Tom Allen was recruiting or traveling with the team during coaching stops at Ole Miss and South Florida, and through his four-year high school playing experience, Thomas estimates his father attended no more than a handful of games.

College, he understood, would be more of the same. So when he went to make his commitment decision, he realized having his father watch his college career was an all-or-nothing proposition.

Ultimately, he wanted his father’s guidance and all that came with it.

“You have to be aware and be blessed to know that you’re never going to get this time back, so you have to take full advantage of it,” Thomas Allen said. “… When I came to visit here, I fell in love with the place. This is home to me. I was born two hours away from here. My grandfather, who is my idol — my dad’s dad — he’s two hours away.”

With Thomas in the fold as a true freshman last season, Tom Allen had his own experience playing under his father to lean on.

But he sought other perspectives. Tom Allen reached out to colleagues across the country to gather their input and came away with two main points of advice from coaches who have guided their sons in college.

First, don’t be his position coach. That’s just too much for all involved.

Second, if he’s a quarterback, don’t even think about it. Lucky for the Allens, Thomas hasn’t been a quarterback since prior to high school.

“The other part of that was, everybody I talked to, there was always growing pains in Year 1 of kind of figuring it out for both sides,” Allen said. “I think the biggest challenge is the locker room, for the individual, for the son involved. You’re always perceived a certain way, especially when you’re there Year 1. That’s the head coach’s son. How do you just be yourself?”

Thomas Allen says the locker room figured things out organically. Once he started making plays in practice last year, it was clear he had a place on the field. Thomas Allen backed it up against last week against Iowa with a second-quarter interception that turned into a scoring drive for the IU offense.

Having a position coach that understands the dynamic has also helped the younger Allen. Linebackers assistant Kane Wommack is a coach’s son, too.

Wommack spent a redshirt year in 2007 inside the same Southern Miss program where his father, Dave, coached defense. Later, Kane and Dave Wommack coached together for two years at Ole Miss.

“There’s not a player in this room that doesn’t know that Thomas is Tom Allen’s son,” Wommack said. “Eyes are going to be on you immediately just because of the person you are. I think Thomas has done a really good job of just being about his business. He doesn’t take anything for granted, the fact that he’s the head coach’s son. Tom challenges him as much as anybody in this defense. He probably doesn’t get away with anything.”

And after particularly trying days, Tom’s wife and Thomas’ mother, Tracy Allen, has a rule.

You can’t go home and complain to mom.

That’s what makes those Thursday night dinners so meaningful for Tom and Thomas. The two see each other every day, but hardly interact outside of the coach-player roles.

Then, late each week, they sit down, leave the football on the field and talk man-to-man, father-to-son. Sometimes those conversations take place in local restaurants, other times in the coach’s office.

Each time, the Allens are where they wish to be.

“Just trying to be the best dad I can be amidst a crazy schedule,” Tom said.

Said Thomas: “That’s the reason I came here, for moments like that. You can never get those moments back.”

One comment

  1. I hope the Coach will read this. I was coached by his father at a Benton Central HS just outside of Lafayette, Indiana. Tom was a small fry then. There is a legacy here that will transcend football and athletics. I still of good memories as a player for the elder coach and have lessons I continue to life with as a plus 60 years man. The best advice that I still live by “never finished the play on your back”, always get up and run to where the play is… Life is where you never stay down, get up don’t finish the play and giving up on your back..

    It takes courage for a father and son to be in a “work” environment together. The maturity of realizing that spending time with family is more precious than all the money in the world is a testament to not just Dad but to mom as well and family that Thomas comes from.

    Guard this and family relationships.. it is what living is about ..

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